Mathematics and Computation

A blog about mathematics for computers

Synthetic mathematics with an excursion into computability theory

It is my pleasure to have the opportunity to speak at the University of Wisconsin Logic seminar. The hosts are graciously keeping the seminar open for everyone. I will speak about a favorite topic of mine:

Synthetic mathematics with an excursion into computability theory

Speaker: Andrej Bauer (University of Ljubljana)
Location: University of Wisconsin Logic seminar
Time: February 8th 2021, 21:30 UTC (3:30pm CST in Wisconsin, 22:30 CET in Ljubljana)
Video link: the Zoom link is available at the seminar page


According to Felix Klein, “synthetic geometry is that which studies figures as such, without recourse to formulae, whereas analytic geometry consistently makes use of such formulae as can be written down after the adoption of an appropriate system of coordinates”. To put it less eloquently, the synthetic method axiomatizes geometry directly by construing points and lines as primitive notions, whereas the analytic method builds a model, the Euclidean plane, from the real numbers.

Do other branches of mathematics posses the synthetic method, too? For instance, what would “synthetic topology” look like? To build spaces out of sets, as topologists usually do, is the analytic way. The synthetic approach must construe spaces as primitive and axiomatize them directly, without any recourse to sets. It cannot introduce continuity as a desirable property of functions, for that would be like identifying straight lines as the non-bending curves.

It is indeed possible to build the synthetic worlds of topology, smooth analysis, measure theory, and computability. In each of them, the basic structure – topological, smooth, measurable, computable – is implicit by virtue of permeating everything, even logic itself. The synthetic worlds demand an economy of thought that the unaccustomed mind finds frustrating at first, but eventually rewards it with new elegance and conceptual clarity. The synthetic method is still fruitfully related to the analytic method by interpretation of the former in models provided by the latter.

We demonstrate the approach by taking a closer look at synthetic computability, whose central axiom states that there are countably many countable subsets of the natural numbers. The axiom is validated and explained by its interpretation in the effective topos, where it corresponds to the familiar fact that the computably enumerable sets may be computably enumerated. Classic theorems of computability may be proved in a straightforward manner, without reference to any notion of computation. We end by showing that in synthetic computability Turing reducibility is expressed in terms of sequential continuity of maps between directed-complete partial orders.

The slides and the video recording of the talk are now available.

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